Beds and borders

High Summer

433FB91F-737E-4E55-BC3A-616E1C61CFAE_1_105_cIt is high summer in the garden right now. July is the dry month in RI and the sprinklers are going, the sun is shining and it is a hot 80F at 8:00 AM. Gardening is regional and even within a small state such as RI the coastal gardens move along a bit differently than those in the high (a relative term since the highest point in RI is only 811 feet)western part of the state. My garden is about 568 feet in elevation which may be high enough to avoid a tsunami but it is also high enough to produce winter temperatures which are five to ten degrees below the state average. I garden here in Zone 6a with a maximum low of -10 F. It doesn't happen often but it happens and is particularly damaging when there is no snow cover and when the temperature drops quickly. 

5613C938-89D9-40AE-8FDA-78C8C65908AE_1_105_cDaylilies are blooming and the hydrangeas, depending on variety, are in various stages of bud and bloom. Last year I planted a crescent of Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'.  The smooth hydrangeas are much more dependable bloomers in my garden than the big leaf blue hydrangeas. The smooth hydrangeas bloom reliably every year since they bloom on new wood. My blue hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla 'Endless Summer' are often a disappointment. There are no blooms or buds on these plants yet. It may happen but since the flower buds are much more sensitive to cold they can fail to bloom in my high altitude - ha- garden. We did have a quick drop in temperature this past winter which could have caused flower bud kill. I will note here that I do not prune this cultivar until new growth begins and I prune only dead wood above new growth since hard pruning cuts off the flower buds which are formed on old wood.  The white Incrediball hydrangeas should be pruned in the spring. I prune about a third of the growth to shape them and encourage new branching. The Incrediball has a sturdier stem than the cultivar 'Annabelle'. I have yet to find a source for the straight Hydrangea arborescens which is perfectly fine in the garden having smaller but abundant flowers with sturdy stems. Marketing and trademarking have made it a less than profitable shrub. The best way to acquire this species plant is to find a friend who has an old planting of them.

310E3799-915B-44A0-8A5B-9AED18F026D5_1_105_cHigh summer is a relatively easy time for the gardener. Tasks include deadheading flowers, cutting back wild growth, re-edging those borders and water, water, water. Containers are full and happy but annuals do require frequent fertilization to keep flowering and to look their best. It is a good time to take stock of blooms and blanks in the garden and to plan on fill ins or divisions for later in the summer when rain is more plentiful. 87296571-AFA0-43A4-947D-1BAB38134345_1_105_c
High summer is the best time to take advantage of the patio, garden bench or lawn chaise and just enjoy the bonus of blooms from spring's hard labor. Today, in the heat, I am going to sit, enjoy, and relish the warm summer evening.


January 2021

SumacThis year this first week of January has a gentle grip on my garden. Last night Mother Nature delivered the perfect amount of snow. Barely an inch covers the ground. Trees, shrubs and perennials are outlined in clear white and the muted browns and grays are now in sharp contrast. The ground has a slightly soft yield to the step--different from the hard, cold, solid ground of just two days ago. January in my garden is a chameleon. Some days, it has an icy tongue and other days it softly surrounds the trees, branches and ground. Rhododendron and boxwoodJanuary is an excellent time for garden assessment. A light snow shows texture in the garden. The coarseness of the sumac contrasts with the delicate tracery of the branching of the dogwoods.  Rhododendrons are frosted with snow. Perennial epimediums hold their foliage through the winter and they catch the snow with their small but broad leaves held on wiry stems creating a 'dance of the sugar fairy' effect albeit in miniature.  Snowfall shows that the back garden clearly would benefit from an evergreen backbone. The Virginia red cedars aka junipers have declined over the years from deer browse and the encroaching shade from surrounding woodland trees. This leaves an undefined ending to the back garden. Deer are always a problem here. Don't fight the site is one of the basic rules of landscape gardening and that includes the wildlife which share this habitat. I will plant some upright boxwood along with some winterberry, red and yellow twig dogwood and perhaps some hydrangeas...the deer do love hydrangeas so a bit of fishing line will be employed to deter them. I am thinking of planting several Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'. I truly wish I could find the straight species, Hydrangea arborescens, which grew beautifully in my grandfather's garden. They have smaller flower heads on them but don't flop over in a heavy rain. I never see these for sale at my local garden centers so will settle for this new cultivar which is purported to hold its large, white flower clusters high on strong stems.

Epimedium jan 21Epimedium
January is a time of dreams and rest for this gardener. No garden is as beautiful as that which the mind envisions during the gray, cold and often icy days of January in New England. This month I will dream and plan. February will bring lengthening days and many seed catalogs but for now, there are dreams of a new border and the blooms of the coming season.


Personal Garden Strolls - By Appointment

New patio august 2019
The New Patio

As the garden unfolds, slowly this season but with a bit more attention from this quarantined gardener of a certain age, I am thinking of all of those who embrace gardening and all those who have not realized just how gratifying and calming in can be to garden and then relax in the garden. Right now, the oak leaves lie heavy upon the perennial borders and while many gardeners embrace leaving them in place to decompose and feed the soil I have found that they smother many perennials and are better carted off to the compost heap to decompose and then return to the beds as a light covering of compost. Bulbs are an exception and most will push their tiny, mighty shoulders right through the oak leaves. How can there be such strength in something so small and delicate?

Snowdrops en masse

At my age, I have too many borders but I do have a lot of time, especially these days when pestilence lurks seemingly everywhere. So, this year, the gardens should be glorious from all the attention. It is early yet in my garden in New England and just the bulbs are blooming-the tiny bulbs. I am thinking that it might be nice to let people - my friends, neighbors and family know when the garden starts to shine. Not en masse but gently. I am thinking that I could call a neighbor who has never seen my garden and invite them to stroll, alone and at their leisure.

Left handed mitten garden 2019
Left handed mitten garden

We are all looking for safe alternatives to crowded places. Public gardens are closed right now and probably will be for another couple of months. When life begins to return to normal, there may be a new normal with people keeping their distances at least until a vaccine is developed for this latest virus. This could take more than a year. So, that said, just maybe my garden could provide a bit of relief for someone else.

Long border august 2019
Long border 2019

Perhaps no one will come but it may be worth a try. Personal Garden Strolls. That could be just the thing. It might be something for everyone. If you lived close by, would you visit? We could all start a PGS movement. I am still thinking about it.


Form Follows Function - June, 2019

Newpatio1Anyone who gardens knows that nothing ever stays the same. I started gardening many years ago on my plot of land. The first garden was a vegetable garden but as the gardening addiction grew a border became a goal. The first was a border behind the house. It was southwest facing and away from the hubbub of a daily life filled with active kids, their friends, and pets. It was a border which would not suffer from thrown balls and furry feet. But, it was behind the house. It provided a nice respite from a long day. I clearly remember taking friends over to see it and one of them audibly gasped at the display. Nirvana to a gardener's spirit and soul. As the kids grew, the niche carved out of the woods for the homestead grew bigger-pines were cut down for more sun and more play area. There was a sandbox added and the woods were pushed back a bit further.  A sunroom was added to the house necessitating the cutting of more trees. The large pine holding the swing hit the dirt. The kids didn't use it anymore anyway. A patio was added and many a meal has been enjoyed on that patio. The area adjacent to the patio was the bird feeding station and it is situated right in front of the double, west facing window. Very useful for entertainment during cold winter months but a difficult area to plant in season as it had an irregular shape. It was a wild space in the summer. PatiotobeBee balm scampered around with abandon and a stray sunflower arose from the bird's sloppy dining habits.  The existing patio seemed smaller for friends more than ten. PlanviewThe garden evolves and so does the garden space. Louis Sullivan, architect, lived by the principle 'Form Follows Function' and while he applied it to buildings, it has become a maxim for landscape design as well.
As such it seemed an additional patio space would be a good solution to the problems of space and Ongoingconstructionpatiothat of taming a garden. There would be more room for sitting and chatting. More space for fun. A nicer space to view from the living room window. Work began. With the help of my awesome neighbor, Rocky, I started the dig. The Equipment Manager, also known as husband, Chris,  was not really on board for another project. He left for Maine for two weeks. I started work. I planned to add a rectangular addition to the curved patio. I kept many wheelbarrows of soil were removed from the designated area? I know I removed about ten before Rocky showed up with superior strength and a bigger wheelbarrow. I think it must have been 30 or 40. Processed gravel was added and then sand. The brick arrived. 630 bricks-I had to get 200 more as we went a bit bigger. Rocky is in construction and he has a good eye for leveling and all things construction. We decided during the process to add a rill under the drip line of the house. I love the rill and it has handled 2.6" of rain with no problem. WithrillWe finished the day the EM arrived home. He was less than thrilled but I do think he is now embracing the space since we have had a couple gatherings which have been much more comfortable with seating and space.


We have had morning coffee on the new patio and evening wine. I saw my first cedar waxwings from the patio chair. Have they visited before? Were they there in the garden all the time and I never noticed? Cedarwaxwing2I don't think so, I think they came to celebrate the new patio.  


March-One Step At A Time

Crocus t. Roseus2What can one say about March? From a gardener's perspective, it is full of promise yet fraught with disappointment. This March has been more challenging than the over sixty I have witnessed in my life. Three nor'easters brought snow, wind and debris to the garden. The tide is receding leaving in its wake a lawn full of sticks and branches. It looks as though Mother Nature herself had the Noro virus. SticksThe oaks, which usually hold their leaves until the spring push of buds have been long bare. This is, in part, due to last season's second invasion of gypsy moth caterpillars. There are not too many leaves on the ground as a result. Change is afoot in the garden. The little Crocus tommasinianus Roseus have popped up in the lawn. The snowdrops continue to bloom as do the Eranthis/winter aconites which shrug off their wrap of snow with no ill effects. Snow on aconitesThe hellebore foliage has taken quite a beating this winter and the ever sturdy and faithful Helleborus foetidus, usually blooming on St. Patrick's Day, is black and bruised requiring a quick shear. Some areas of the garden, those north facing, are still covered with several inches of snow. It has been a cold month and while the sun and the earth are warm after a mild February, snow melt is slow. Back borderIn some respects this is a boon to a gardener who has to rake and clear. Cleanup of the bare, south facing gardens allows a bit of recuperation time for winter lazy muscles. It has been below freezing almost every morning in March to date but in spite of the cold temperatures leaves emerge in response to longer day length and warming sunshine among other things. SorbusThe real activity in the garden is taking place sight unseen below the soil as roots begin to awaken and absorb life giving moisture and nutrients. I will not be sad to say goodby to the weather of March this year. The tiny burgeoning beauty of buds and early flowers would be overlooked if they happened at the same time the opulent peonies bloomed. Each daily garden walk exposes a new bud, flower or bird song. March does reveal, in tiny doses, the march of the season. I just have to remind myself, each cold or miserable day, to look for what is right there in the March garden. The tiny things.


Bloom Day-August 15, 2017

Left handed mitten August 17
Left handed mitten garden

It is a bit murky here on this August Bloom Day. The Dog Days of summer are upon us and the gardens are in late summer bloom. This year, the bee balm, Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' has been a vigorous showstopper. The hummingbirds are loving it just as much as this gardener. It is six feet tall in some areas of the garden. We have had a moisture filled summer up to this point. The late astilbe is blooming in the left handed mitten garden along with phlox, persicaria and butterfly bush. The lawn is green even if the trees are not due to yet another year of gypsy moth caterpillar problems.

Fennel 17

Fennel reseeded everywhere in the garden closest to the house. It is a prolific re-seeder so beware. It does have a beautiful flower. Pool border August 2017The pool border is lush with flowers. The bee balm is a bit out of control here. The other side of the fence, the long, sunny border requires attention every week if one has planted Dutchman's pipe. Beware of Dutchman's Pipe. It can travel twenty feet in any direction and is as rampant in New England as Kudzu is in the south. Still, it does create a privacy screen. Long Border 2017As you can see, a haircut is in order as it is scrambling over the tall perennials at the back of the border.

Eucomis 'Glowing Embers'
Eucomis 'Glowing Embers'

Annuals fill in the gaps in the August New England garden and containers add bright bits of color here and there. Canna 2017As always, thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for hosting yet another Bloom Day and thank you to those who have visited this garden.



Overview MayJune begins here in the garden much as May ended-with a gentle rain pattering on the windows and on the garden. Another slow and cool spring gives longevity to the flowers which have dared to bloom. The cool moistness also holds back the iris, peonies and poppies. They stay tightly wrapped, waiting for warmth and sunshine. It has been a while since the garden has experienced either. I know I will yearn for this coolness a month from now.  Right now though impatience for sun and warmth after a rainy, cool spring is rampant. Anticipation is one of the major hallmarks of a gardener. We wait for the first crocus, the first iris, the waft of fragrance which signals the month-lilacs and lily of the valley for May here in Rhode Island. June brings the soft sweet smell of peonies and iris and later in the month comes the heavy scent of roses. I had forgotten the fragrance of iris. My husband reminded me. Vegetable Garden MayOne has to stuff ones nose down into the bloom to experience its unique but subtle fragrance. As June begins here, all is lush with green as the predominant color. How many shades of green exist in the world?  The human eye is most sensitive to different shades of green than any other color. I adore green but I am a bit anxious for more color in the garden. It will come. It seems as though we have had more than the average 10" of rain for May but perhaps it has just been faux rain and mist and gray. It has certainly been a month with less sunshine than previous years. Pool Border May copyRain may dampen the spirit but it does break up garden tasks giving the gardener a bit of a rest in the frenzy of spring planting, weeding and mowing. I have found that a misty, gray day can be a very comfortable day in the garden. Weeds come out of the earth a bit easier, moisture is kind to the skin as well as the plants and while the knees and feet get a bit muddy both wash quite easily and sweat does not drip down ones face. What will June bring? I will let you know in a month but right now I will just enjoy the green. 


A Gentle Rain

Daffodil raindropsLast Friday was a very warm day for late April. One of those unusual spring days which warms the ground more than most. I worked outside just a bit cleaning out garden beds all the while thinking that the ground underfoot was moving ever so slightly from those pushing roots. Roots of grass, perennials and shrubs. Roots pushing outward from their base in search of moisture and nutrients. All in readiness for a burst of shoots and top growth. Friday night a gentle rain fell. I could hear it in the background of my sleep. It had been dry for several days and I know that I let out an audible sigh of relief for the emerging spring plants. I could almost hear the plants echo that sigh. Saturday morning the garden was greener and more visibly alive than the previous day. The nubs of Solomon's Seal lengthened by inches overnight. Honestly, they did. Tulips orange and creamThe daffodils bent a bit with the moisture but the sturdy tulips just embraced the shower. The freedom lawn colored up and violets and ajuga burst into bloom. Yes, I have a ragged lawn which serves as a suitable ground cover for setting off the borders and allowing a bit of play. It also keeps the woods at bay. Lawn is an easy groundcover if you don't care about perfection. Dandelions are a cheery sight in the lawn as well and one can actually eat dandelion greens. I do admire the perfection of grass on a golf course but the freedom lawn works for me. I would rather spend time on the details of the borders. Valerie FinnisThe little grape hyacinth 'Valerie Finnis' loves to party with the Heuchera 'Caramel'. HallyPrunus x 'Hally Jolivette' is covered with blooms and this cherry is a must for any garden. It is a shrub but can be trained to either a standard or multi-stemmed tree. It will stay in bloom for 2-3 weeks depending on the daily temperatures. It also blooms well when it is quite a young shrub. I have had this one in the garden for over ten years and while it is listed as having a maximum height of 10', this one is well over ten feet tall. Pool Border late AprilThe long, sunny border is emerging. It needs weeding and a sharp edge to bring it into shape but the colors and textures can be appreciated even with a bit of disarray. I would so love to see a gentle rain a couple times per week. It doesn't hurt to make a wish.


Every Spring is Different - Nine Years of Blogging

AprilgardenNine years ago I wrote my first blog post. Easter was late that year but spring was in full swing. Much has changed in nine years. The garden continues to evolve, the gardener's pace has slowed down a bit and the weather, never a sure thing here in New England, continues to challenge the spirit. Many perennials are emerging as are the leaves of some of the early flowering shrubs. Lilac budsThe lilacs are well into green buds. The scene is set for a nice slow spring but, no. A good six to eight inches of snow arrived on Monday and Tuesday the low temperature was 15F. Aprilsnow4The snow cover served the perennials well providing inches of insulation but there is cold damage on the lilac leaves and flowers. The magnolia stellata was just beginning to open. Magnolia budTime will tell if the unopened buds will drop or unfurl. No matter, most plants will survive. Heavy rains arrived on Wednesday to wash all that snow away. We are back to April weather this morning. Garden cleanup can continue and the lawn continues to brighten to a rich shade of green. The first flowers of spring which include dandelions are again visible. Spring is such an active time in the garden for plants, wildlife, birds and the gardener. DandelionGibbs, the new Job Supervisor in the form of a chocolate lab,  is growing big and strong. He seems to have a bit of a penchant for digging which will have to be curbed a bit. At five months old, he has wrapped himself around our hearts even on those rainy days when he whines to go outside seemingly oblivious to the heavy rain. He has helped to once again establish the routine of walking around the garden each morning, coffee in hand. Gibbs5monthsI check out the plants and he checks out all those scents on the ground. All is right with the world. Thank you for reading this blog. Many of you have been reading for nine years. Blogging has provided a outlet for sharing my garden with a big world. I plan to continue as the garden is ever changing.  


With No Regrets - Rue - Ruta graveolens

Drought-garden viewIt is mid September and the garden is looking more tattered and aged than usual. The above picture shows the dried and burned grass in the sunny portion of the garden. The foreground freedom grass still looks quite green but it is really best seen from a distance. September is the month of natural decline as plants complete their life cycles. Days are getting noticeably shorter but this September has been very hot. Not hot if you live in Austin, TX but hot for New England where air conditioning is still not in every home. Until today, we have had no significant rainfall since mid-August. This garden and the gardener are dependent on well water. A well ties one a bit more closely to nature. Choices must be made regarding water usage. Shower the body or the garden? Drink a cool glass of water or quench the thirst of a garden full of plants? With hundreds of feet of borders, a vegetable garden and a week of vacation, Mother Nature has chosen to remind me of the necessity of water. Those thin, large leaved plants with shallow roots are the first to show the signs of water stress. Drought-hydrangeaHydrangeas and astilbe are limp and crispy.  I cringe when I look at the withered foliage in the garden but here and there in the garden there are a few pristine perennials.  One small and rather insignificant perennial herb shows no sign of stress. You might think it is the wooly leaved lamb's ear or the gray foliaged yarrows but even those plants have turned limp or browned. The Queen of the Garden this September is the herb rue, Ruta graveolens.   Drought-rueI have only one plant and it has gotten no attention during the dry spell. Its foliage is blue and smooth and just looking at this plant brings down the heat. It is cool to the eye. It is an interesting herb which is native to the Balkans where the climate is hot and dry. Rue has been used medicinally for centuries and was said to have been ingested by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo to improve their eyesight. It can also cause violent vomiting and gastric distress and the oils from this plant can blister the skin. It is also quite bitter. I will stick to using it in the garden. I have read that soft tip cuttings taken in the fall and stuck in moist sand will root during the winter. I may just have to increase my stock of this plant and give this a try. It would make a lovely border plant as it grows in an upright, rounded form. Rue has long been a symbol of bitterness and regret but I have no regrets in planting this cool beauty in the garden. In fact, I know I need a few more of them.